Published on Thursday, June 22, 2017
Mike Compston is a Nevada rancher and lifelong learner. A lot has changed in Smith Valley over his lifetime, but he enjoys the opportunity each day brings to experience something new.
As a child, Mike took in the bustling ranch around him. He loved to watch the blacksmith and hear his steady cadence on the anvil. Mike has fond memories of eating with the crew at long tables in the cookhouse, listening to stories of the day’s events. Working alongside his father and grandfather, Mike learned to drive a tractor and milk a cow. He remembers celebrating his 21st birthday horseback, driving cattle between grazing areas on a bitter, snowy November day.
Growing up, Mike’s grandmother taught him to stop and appreciate all the plants and wildlife around him. “It was always part of my life and part of the learning process that we had a firm understanding of working with nature.” He explains. “Don't do things that work against her or in conflict with the natural weather patterns, the natural growth patterns of the various plants. The bees, the birds, all had a place.”
Taking time to observe his natural surroundings is still his daily routine. “I enjoy the early mornings and the evenings, driving around the ranch farm areas and looking at the wildlife.” Mike smiles as he reflects on the last 50 years.
In that time, he and his wife, Jacquie, raised their two daughters on the ranch along with a diverse range of crops. The girls were successful with their registered Herford cattle and participated in cheerleading, volleyball, basketball, and 4-H. But at the end of the day, Mike is most proud of the work ethic they learned growing up in this way of life.
“They learned to never think about an 8-hour day, but to think about accomplishing their job. I'm most proud of that.” Mike says. “That's how they still are. They think about doing their job. It was their job whether they accomplish it in 4 hours or 40 hours. And whether you have that split into five days or two. They learned to know they could solve problems themselves at a very early age. When you're out there on a horse 10 miles from anyone else and there's a problem, you have to figure that out.”
Jacquie adds, “We did everything together. When the kids were little they would help me move pairs in the field. Toni would go sometimes out into the garlic fields with Mike and count sacks and watch the crew. Yvette helped me with book work.”
They have great memories, but ranch life has been far from easy. Water and property rights issues are always lurking. Irrigation is essential. The high desert climate makes for short growing seasons, often without much moisture, and it’s difficult to diversify with such limiting factors.
But armed with a positive attitude, research and an eagerness to learn, the Compstons continue to embrace the challenges. “There’s the daily challenge, and the daily opportunity to learn.” Mike explains. “That hasn't changed. To have that world out there every morning when you get up, and that there's something out there that you're going to learn is special.”
“The more you know, the better your operation is going to be. You also have to know what is going on politically.” Jacquie says matter of factly.
Today, the ranch continues to evolve. Mike raises lambs and alfalfa, both conventional and organic, on the ranch. He’s an avid #AgChat participant, and cherishes the opportunities he gets to teach and encourage young entrepreneurs.
“When we operated and I managed some other ranches along the way, I used to tell the people, 'I want to teach you more than I know. So that you are capable of doing my job and any job that is higher level than mine.' If I've done that, then I'm a success. It makes you whole. It makes you a person. And people remember it for a lifetime.” Mike smiles.
Jacquie is also committed to sharing what she’s learned and advocating for other farmers and ranchers through organizations like American Agri-Women.
Summing up life’s motivation is difficult, but Mike puts it simply. "No growing season, no production year in a man's lifetime in agriculture is the same. It never is duplicated. There's variables of weather, and climate, and markets. I farm because I love the challenge. I love the diversity. I love the opportunity to learn. That's it. It's who I am and what I do."
That’s why Mike Compston farms.
Author: Natalina Sents
Categories: Why I Farm, Why I Farm Roadtrip
Tags: Beck's Blog, Why I Farm, Beck's Hybrids, alfalfa, Why I Farm Roadtrip, Nevada farmer, Mike Compston, Garlic, Asparagus, Sheep, Rancher, Herford